The brains trust at Glasgow Warriors will be working overtime in the next fortnight to plot a path through hostile country to the Guinness PRO12 Final at BT Murrayfield in three weeks.
The Warriors’ first defeat in ten games, 14-7 to Connacht on Saturday, means they will have to return to Galway in two weeks and do what no team has yet done – win away from home in the PRO12 semi-finals.
Head coach Gregor Townsend remains bullish that his team can do it and he has a point – but for Sila Puafisi’s dreadful loss of discipline and control early in the second half, the Warriors probably would have had the winning of Saturday’s wrestle in the wind and rain.
Instead, rightly reduced to 14 men when Puafisi led with the head against Connacht’s scrum-half Keiran Marmion – inexcusably as well, as the whistle had long gone – the momentum the Warriors had seized through Gordon Reid’s try just after half-time evaporated instantly.
Townsend defended his man in the immediate aftermath of the loss but study of the tape will show him clearly what referee Ian Davies, the TV audience and the crowd huddled on the Clan Terrace at the Sportsground saw – it was a complete brainstorm by the Tongan tighthead that will surely result in a long ban.
Glasgow aren’t exactly angels – they’re the most penalised team in the PRO12 – but most of their offending is “within the game” and it’s a rarity there’s an example of uncontrolled ill-discipline such as this. It could hardly have come at a worse time for the team.
Connacht didn’t exactly dominate the remaining half-hour, although an immediate ten minute assault on the Glasgow line brought Tiernan O’Halloran’s ultimately decisive try with 20 minutes left.
From there Glasgow had the better of the game with 14 men and although they often made good ground, the composure they’d shown through their lengthy unbeaten run was missing.
The Warriors have been systematic during the second-half of games in the latter part of the season – O’Halloran’s score was only the second try they’ve conceded in the second 40 since February – and Townsend, his coaches and their analysis team have been outstanding at picking opponents apart “on the hoof”.
Puafisi’s dismissal meant that any realignment the Warriors had done after a tricky second quarter of the match – and with Reid’s quick try after the break it had seemed to have been an effective adjustment – was rendered almost useless.
After a bright opening 20 minutes when the Warriors should have built a sizeable advantage on the scoreboard, Connacht’s defence held pretty well, with Bundee Aki, a nuisance in all areas of the pitch, particularly outstanding.
Glasgow fans can bleat all they like about Connacht constantly creeping offside, disrupting the breakdown and even the punch they thought they saw in the late going, but they can’t rely on getting the rub of the green from the officials in the return.
Nor can they expect the weather in Galway to be any better than it was on Saturday, as it rarely is.
There also may have to be a reshuffle of personnel, specifically after the worrying sight of Alex Dunbar being shouldered from the field with what looked like a knee injury.
Glasgow did without their midfield lynchpin in the run-in to last year’s title, but they’d clearly prefer to have him there, especially against Aki and Robbie Henshaw.
But the Warriors have been outstanding at breaking down opponents during the last three years and here is the ideal time for the Scotstoun brains trust to really earn their corn.
Connacht may have shown Glasgow all they have, and their tries came from field position caused by penalties. The Warriors have a lot more in the tank, one suspects, but it’ll need an effective detailed gameplan, better execution and far better discipline than they showed on Saturday.
Just because an away team hasn’t won an away semi-final before doesn’t make it impossible – in fact there’s a good case for betting both semi-finals this year will be won by the away teams.
But Connacht have the wind in their sails now. Glasgow have to figure a way in the next two weeks to turn that around.